Route 26 Working Group prepares for public meeting


Officials from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) recently got to test-drive their State Route 26 Mainline Improvement Project presentation, before taking the information public in less than two weeks. Community, business and legislative leaders on the Route 26 Working Group met Oct. 1 to hear updates about the Route 26 Mainline project.

The rest of the public will get news straight from the horse’s mouth at the public meeting Tuesday, Oct. 15, from 4 to 7 p.m. at South Coastal Library in Bethany Beach.

Actual construction on the project to increase the roadway’s width to two travel lanes and a center turn lane, with other improvements, is expected to begin in late November or December and finish by summer or fall of 2016. The 2.5-year project could take longer if there is a rainy spring or harsh winter.

“The goal is to let everyone know that, yes, after all these years, we are going to improve the road, and here’s what to expect,” said Chief Engineer Jill Frey of Century Engineering.

DelDOT staff will be present to answer questions, although there will not be formal public comments taken for the record.

Frey also encouraged Working Group members and local leaders this week to attend the Oct. 15 meeting, as knowledgeable “champions of the project.”

The Route 26 project brings center turn lanes and a 5-foot shoulder to more than 4 miles of the road, from Assawoman Canal to St. George’s U.M. Church in Clarksville. The project will affect 250 parcels, reconstruct 237 entrances, replace two bridges and create sidewalks from the Assawoman Canal to Windmill Road, all while maintaining pedestrian traffic.

Guests at the Oct. 15 meeting can hear a short lecture, view informational boards and see the overall project’s expected effect on their own home or business.

“In the past, we typically said [construction] would take four years, but we were directed [to finish] inside three years,” said Tom Banez, DelDOT’s Route 26 project manager.

That means road work will occur on multiple sites simultaneously, although there will be a one-mile break between active sections.

“It’s never going be painless,” Frey acknowledged.

The main contractor will be chosen in the next two weeks, as bids were received Sept. 24.

DelDOT’s project inspection team is led by AECOM’s resident engineer, Sam Bostick, and assistant resident engineer/traffic expert Ken Cimino. Both bring at least 30 years experience to the project.

Contractor representatives will attend future public meetings, as stipulated in the contract.

Local Realtor Vickie York, who has an office in the project area, suggested the public presentation include more about business concerns. Another speaker mentioned emergency response plans.

Drivers using Route 26 through that area are already learning to pad their schedules slightly, as lane closures are again being allowed for utility relocations around Clarksville. The relocation of utilities should be 75 or 80 percent complete when construction begins this winter.

Overall construction may continue day or night, as part of an effort to speed the project to completion, but full lane closures are only permitted during quieter times, including Oct. 1 to May 15, except weekday commutes. There are only a few nighttime lane closures allowed during summers.

The related Detour Routes project is nearly done, having begun in 2010, with just some painting and a few Beaver Dam Road entrances to be completed. “Detour routes” are technically just alternative routes for the duration of the project, because Route 26 will still be open, except during bridge replacement near Lord Baltimore Elementary School and near Millville Town Hall in early 2015.

Signage will be placed along Routes 1 and 113 as far as away Milford and Ocean City, Md., to notify drivers of alternative routes but remind them that “businesses are open.”

Land acquisitions still have not been completed, however, as DelDOT and individual property owners move into the condemnation process.

However, Frey said DelDOT has “right of entry” onto everything else.

Throughout the project, people can get DelDOT updates on the radio at 1330 AM, on their Facebook and Twitter pages, via their smartphone app and email (sign up at www.SR26.deldot.gov).

There is also a traffic camera at the intersection with Central Avenue and one coming to Route 17, which can be used by DelDOT and the public to monitor traffic flow.

However, it’s not DelDOT’s policy to have a phone hotline with pre-recorded updates, due to ever-changing road conditions, Frey said in response to State Rep. Ron Gray’s question this week.

To contact DelDOT Public Affairs, call (302) 760-2080 or email dotpr@state.de.us.